Archive for the Music Category

“The One That Goes All the Way!” CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, My First Video Review

Posted in Crazy Shit, Movies, Music, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Video Reviews, Videos on July 3, 2014 by Robert Morgan

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Because doing video reviews seems to be the in thing these days I have decided to get in the game personally, and to start things off I have selected the Italian gorehound exploitation masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust.

Apologies for the unpolished look, grotesque length, and my occasional off-topic ramblings. I promise you these will get better the more I do them. Hope you enjoy this, and thanks for your support!

The Ballad of Cable Television: Sam Peckinpah, Music Video Director

Posted in Crazy Shit, Music, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos on April 5, 2014 by Robert Morgan

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The last time the legendary Sam Peckinpah – maker of many classic westerns and contemporary crime dramas that all shared a penchant for shocking violence and tragic underlying themes of men out of their time running out of time – took his place behind the camera it wasn’t to orchestrate another visionary display of sweaty, balletic brutality.

During the final months of 1984 the man unreasonably (yet somehow justifiably) granted the nickname “Bloody Sam” was hired by Charisma Records and British humorist, television personality, and producer Martin Lewis to direct music videos showcasing a duo of songs by Julian Lennon that would be aired on MTV at the time when the cable channel that would one day subject the world to the horrors of Carson Daly, Pauly Shore, Jesse Camp, Jersey Shore, and Teen Mom was barely three years old.

“I didn’t want one of these young whiz-kids out of film school, I didn’t want a slick music-video director,” Lewis said of hiring the volatile director. “I wanted to find somebody who would bring something to it, I didn’t know what, but it had to be some texture, some perspective.” Prior to approaching Peckinpah for the assignment Lewis plead his case to other filmmakers like Alan Rudolph (Trouble in Mind) and Robert Altman (Nashville), but the idea of hiring Peckinpah was put forth by Lewis’ friend Dennis Delrogh, a film critic for L.A. Weekly.

Lewis was hesitant to the idea at first: “Are you kidding me? I can just imagine what he’d do, open the film with a slow-motion recreation of John Lennon’s murder.” Delrogh persisted in convincing the producer that he was allowing the director’s infamous reputation to cloud his judgement. Peckinpah’s melancholic 1970 western The Ballad of Cable Hogue had been one of Lewis’ favorite films, and it was a personal favorite of the director’s as well.

Peckinpah had begun his career in television in the late 1950’s writing and directing episodes of shows like The Rifleman, The Dick Powell Theater, and his own creation The Westerner. One of his most critically-acclaimed efforts as a director was an episode of ABC Stage 67 entitled “Noon Wine” that aired on November 23, 1966 and starred Jason Robards and Olivia de Havilland. Peckinpah’s last work for TV prior to directing the Lennon videos was a February 1967 episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater. By that time his big screen filmmaking ambitions that had nearly been permanently decimated by the chaotic production of Major Dundee were revitalized by The Wild Bunch and for the next 17 years he would work strictly in cinema.

The Lennon video idea was originated as a prospective documentary designed to help the musician promote his debut album Valotte. As initially conceived, Peckinpah’s cameras would follow the Beatle spawn through rehearsals, recording sessions, and later, concerts. Lennon balked at being filmed performing before a live audience, so the documentary idea was scuttled and the dual music video idea started taking shape. Lewis wanted the videos to be visually low-key, just Lennon being filmed in the recording studio. They would be filmed over a three-day period in a small studio in upstate New York.

The songs being immortalized in MTV-acceptable video form were “Valotte” and “Too Late for Goodbyes”. Peckinpah was paid $10,000 for the job. At this point in the mercurial filmmaker’s brilliant but troubled career it was a king’s ransom compared to the wooden nickles Hollywood was offering him for projects that never came to pass. Peckinpah hadn’t made a film worthy of his celebrated reputation since 1974’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and that one had been torn to shred by most critics and ignored by moviegoers. Forgettable follow-ups like The Killer Elite, Convoy, and his final film The Osterman Weekend offered precious few glimpses of the greatness in Peckinpah’s finest films that had been slowly eroded by a self-destructive dependency on alcohol and cocaine.

Leading crews of hundreds through blistering hot conditions in Mexico on his various film shoots and matching wits with the most duplicitous studio executives Hollywood could vomit up didn’t make Peckinpah as nervous as the thought of having to work under such restrictive conditions for little money. He was encouraged to give the videos every remaining ounce of his creative energy by film editor Lou Lombardo, a close friend and frequent collaborator. Lewis didn’t have to concern himself with the potential nightmare of dealing with the unpleasant side of Peckinpah many have had the good misfortune of experiencing in the past; his chosen director worked diligently on the video shoot for all three days, even going all the way to 3 a.m. on the final day of filming.

The man who brought scenes of slow-motion death and devastation to unsuspecting American audiences in the late 1960’s was surprisingly reserved in his approach to the youthful format of the music video. That didn’t stop him from energizing the shoot with some helpful ideas on the fly. In David Weddle’s 1994 biography of Peckinpah, If They Move….Kill ‘Em!, Lewis remembered observing Peckinpah’s spontaneous creative up close:

“When we were shooting ‘Too Late for Goodbyes’ Sam found a doorway behind the band at the back of the stage that he thought would be interesting. He had the door removed, had a light put behind it, like heavenly light, bright. He had Moses Pendleton, an excellent modern dancer and close friend of Julian’s, get in the doorway. He did a whole series of short shots, which in editing he interspersed in the video, of Moses dancing in and out of the doorway. Moses did his own moves, with Sam making suggestions: ‘Can you do something that’s funny?’ ‘Can you do something that’s sad?’ It was a combination of mime and dancing. Then Sam shot Julian reacting off of him, which brought Julian to life.”

Both videos had been shot on 35mm film and transferred to videotape, allowing Peckinpah to make use of advanced computerized editing equipment that was beginning to become the industry norm, but for the first time. Experimenting with new technology reinvigorated him even more and he managed to edit the videos in three days. Though the Phil Ramone-produced album Valotte wasn’t a hit with the critics it did very well with record store consumers, peaking at #17 on the Billboard 200 and eventually going platinum. Sales were helped immeasurably by the fleeting popularity of the singles and Peckinpah’s videos: “Valotte” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but “Too Late for Goodbyes” made it to the #5 spot and became the most successful single of Lennon’s career.

The only real critical praise given to Valotte was reserved for the videos, with the young Lennon and his veteran director receiving the lion’s share of accolades. Lennon was nominated for Best New Video Artist at the second MTV Video Music Awards ceremony on September 13, 1985 (Eddie Murphy hosted). As a bittersweet ending to this unusual creative partnership he was not only denied the award, but the iconic wild man of the cinematic West who made them didn’t even live to see him receive the nomination: Peckinpah passed away from heart failure at the age of 59 on December 28, 1984 – about two months after filming and finishing the videos. They weren’t the final masterpiece many of the director’s fans felt he still had in him, but at least he was able to pass from this world having partially rebuilt his damaged reputation and proven to the world that even though his body was dying there was nothing that could kill Sam Peckinpah’s love of pure filmmaking.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK’s Rightly Deleted Bank Robbery Scene

Posted in Crazy Shit, Movies, Music, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos on November 8, 2013 by Robert Morgan

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When a movie completes filming and enters the post-production phase it usually ends up having some scenes that were deemed to be extraneous or unnecessary deleted from the final cut. Sometimes in the case of certain features entire opening or ending scenes are either cut completely or rewritten and reshot months after principal photography wrapped because the filmmaker or studio demanded the changes or those moments did not agree with test audiences. On rare occasions a movie’s theatrical released is delayed for months, often years, while they have their entire story structure changed around.

John Carpenter‘s futuristic action classic Escape from New York – read my review HERE – didn’t lose a few brief scenes before it first hit the big screen; it lost its entire first reel. In 1994 Escape was released on a special collector’s edition laserdisc by New Line Home Video. Among the scant bonus features were a commentary with Carpenter and star Kurt Russell (which was later recycled for MGM’s 2003 Special Edition DVD) and a deleted opening sequence from a rough workprint of the movie that had been discovered in a salt mine film depository in Hutchinson, Kansas. After some brief discussion about possibly restoring the sequence to the rest of Escape Carpenter ultimately decided against it, rationalizing that it was rightfully deleted in the first place because it slowed down the narrative and gave the audience too much back story on Russell’s iconic anti-hero Snake Plissken when it wasn’t needed at all.

Fans of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise will recognize Joe Unger (Tinker in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) as Snake’s unfortunate partner-in-crime Taylor. Although the deleted prologue was his only scene in Escape Unger’s name still appears in the movie’s closing credits.

Here’s the scene as it appeared on the 1994 New Line Home Video laserdisc:

This is a fan-edited version of the first half of the scene with a previously unused music cue composed by Carpenter for this moment restored to its supposedly rightful place:

Finally, we have the deleted opening complete with audio commentary from Carpenter and Russell as it appeared on the 2003 MGM special edition DVD and the Blu-ray released by Scream Factory this past April. You can order that Blu-ray HERE.

Robert Altman’s NASHVILLE Coming to Blu-ray This December from the Criterion Collection

Posted in Movies, Music, My Heroes, News, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos on September 16, 2013 by Robert Morgan

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The late Robert Altman made some of the greatest narrative features in the history of American cinema. One of his best films, 1975’s Nashville, is finally coming to Blu-ray on December 3, 2013. Responsible for this release is the Criterion Collection, which has distributed several of Altman’s films on DVD and Blu-ray in the past including 3 Women and Short Cuts and his late-80’s HBO political satire Tanner ’88.

The Nashville Blu-ray will feature an all-new 2k digital film restoration and a selection of supplements both new and ported over from Paramount’s previous Region 1 DVD, including a commentary by Altman. New to the release will be: a new documentary on the making of Nashville featuring interviews with actors Keith Carradine, Michael Murphy, Allan Nicholls, and Lily Tomlin; assistant director Alan Rudolph; and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury; archival interviews with Altman; behind-the-scenes footage; Carradine’s song demos; the original theatrical trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Molly Haskell. The Blu-ray will also come with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and two DVDs with a standard-definition copy of the film and all of the accompanying extras.

This is fantastic news; we need more Altman classics released on Blu. I have never seen Nashville in full, as it’s one of those beloved cinematic masterpieces I keep promising myself I’ll watch one of these days but never get around to doing so. A Criterion Blu-ray release just in time for Christmas is as good a reason as any to finally rectify that mistake. Other titles scheduled for a December bow from Criterion include Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, the original 1976 documentary Grey Gardens, and the box set Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project.

Love, Cough Syrup, and Karate: Bill Hicks’ NINJA BACHELOR PARTY

Posted in Bill Hicks, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, Music, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos on August 27, 2013 by Robert Morgan

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If I have to explain to you who Bill Hicks is then you aren’t the proper audience for this blog. The man’s been dead for nearly two decades but the modest comedic legacy he left behind has made a greater impact on the evolution of modern comedy than anyone who has come along since, even the greatest stand-ups and actors and filmmakers. If you have no idea who I’m talking about then go buy some of his albums or DVDs or at the very least go watch some of his stand-up specials on YouTube right now. Then come back and read this.

Hello, and welcome back. In the years prior to his untimely death from pancreatic cancer Hicks devoted whatever time his increasingly hectic schedule would allow to making a half-hour action-packed comedy short title Ninja Bachelor Party. Along with his friends Kevin Booth (who wrote a fantastic biography of the late comedian in 2006 called Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution that is currently out of print but I highly recommend a purchase, which you can do HERE) and David Johndrow, Hicks wrote, directed, and played several roles in this epic over-the-top martial arts spoof.

Booth was given the leading role of a hopeless, Robitussin-addicted loser named Clarence Mumford who has long held the desire to become a ninja. His parents hate the idea and his cheating girlfriend Shotsi couldn’t care less. Mumford first goes to martial arts guru Dr. Death (played by Hicks wearing his best pair of Cobra sunglasses and a wisp of pubic facial hair), who proceeds to fracture his right arm and mock him mercilessly. One night Clarence has a vision – which isn’t Robitussin-induced – of the karate guru Master (also Hicks) who tells young Mumford to travel to Korea (represented by a park in Austin, Texas) so he can train him in the art of the ninja.

After a fight training montage and some of the Master’s deranged fortune cookie philosophy Clarence returns to America ready to kick ass. He finds Dr. Death in bed with Shotsi and a ten-minute battle royale ensues that takes Clarence and the evil Death from street corners to rooftops and back to Shotsi’s for a showdown that features the best use of a bicycle as a killing implement my eyes have ever witnessed.

No on-set audio was recorded; all of the voices were dubbed in later by Hicks, Booth, and Johndrow, even the female parts (tee hee). Hicks also wrote or co-wrote with Booth and Johndrow the entire soundtrack. How I wish the original recording sessions would surface one of these days. The songs of Ninja Bachelor Party achieve a sort of epic tranquility, and the more aggressive tracks are more laid back than typical action movie musical accompaniment.

Shot on videotape over the course of a decade on a budget of approximately $5,000 (accounts vary), Ninja Bachelor Party is thirty minutes of unfiltered lunacy stuffed with a metal pole into a boilerplate plot straight of The Karate Kid. It features insane, quotable dialogue laced with non sequiturs and some imaginative physical comedy (during the climatic fight Clarence and Dr. Death fall into a swimming pool and take a break from the battle by jumping into drying machines). The most important to remember is that it was birthed into existence by the power of pure love for everything the short film contains, and as Hicks’ wizened Master says in the final scene, “Love is all there is.”

Hicks and Booth had begun to plot a sequel shortly after the original became a cult hit in video stores and on college campuses all across Austin. Unfortunately their plans were brought to a screeching halt by Hicks’ passing. We may have been deprived of future adventures with Clarence Mumford the cough syrup-chugging ninja warrior and his beatific guru, but the rowdy and audacious Ninja Bachelor Party remains a genre-riffing head trip that few amateur comedy filmmakers could ever hope to top.

Ninja Bachelor Party has never received a commercial release though a mock trailer for the short was included as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray release of the amazing 2010 documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story, which you can buy HERE; I ordered it yesterday myself.